Lake TahoeTake the bluest sky on the brightest summer day and tip it upside down onto land, and that’s what Lake Tahoe looks like. It’s the perfect reflection of heaven. If you’ve never been there, don’t die before you visit Lake Tahoe on a family vacation there.

Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide. When speaking about Lake Tahoe, people divide it into the “North Shore” or the “South Shore.” The South Shore is the livelier side, with casinos, restaurants and shopping. The North Shore is the quieter side, with fewer casinos and shopping choices – but with an equally beautiful view of the lake. It’s like choosing between Maui and Kauai when planning a family vacation in Hawaii. Where you stay depends on your mood.

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the world, at a maximum depth of 1,645 feet. I know this because the tour guide on the Tahoe Queen told me. And that, my friends, brings me to my first travel tip: The best way to see Lake Tahoe is to be right on top of it.


Take a boat tour of Lake Tahoe

There are a number of boat tours available in town. We took a 2.5-hour cruise on the Tahoe Queen, complete with bar, restaurant and cushy lounge with pillows and foot rests. Actually, the Tahoe Queen is “the lake’s only authentic Mississippi paddlewheeler.” I half-expected to see Mark Twain walking the deck.

Coincidentally, Mark Twain visited Lake Tahoe in 1861, and wrote these memorable words: “At last the lake burst upon us–a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft three thousand feet higher still! As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole world affords.”

How come nobody writes like that anymore? And does anyone else think that Mark Twain looks like the love child of Albert Einstein and Colonel Sanders?

Sierra Shores: The Hidden Jewel of Lake Tahoe

Folks, I am going to run out of fabulous, wonderful, awesome superlatives trying to describe this rental property. (Where is Mark Twain when you need him?) I have never in my traveling life been treated to a more incredible overnight accommodation than the luxury townhouse at Sierra Shores. I have been to Lake Tahoe many times over the years, and never even noticed this lakefront property, which I have dubbed “The Hidden Jewel of Lake Tahoe.” I have always driven right by it, hell-bent, toward the casinos.

So let this be a lesson to all you vacationers: Slow down, and take some time to smell the vacation rentals.

From the outside, a Sierra Shores townhouse looks like a private, cozy, rustic cabin. Actually, a three-story rustic cabin as big as a house. Step inside, and it’s more than 3,000 square feet of spacious, luxurious modern living that screams, “FAMILY REUNION!” Made me wish I was a Kennedy so that I could call everyone over for a barbecue and a game of touch football on the wide expanse of green grass in the back yard.

It took less than five seconds for my daughters to find the private elevator. Yes, I said “elevator.” Going “up” seemed apropos of my mood, my spirits, my station in life at that moment.

The other highlights of Sierra Shores are best described in bullet points, to prevent this writer from hyperventilating:

  • FOUR bedrooms, FOUR bathrooms!
  • Gourmet kitchen with all the fancy Viking appliances, including two ovens and a wine closet!
  • SIX, count them, 6! . . . plasma TVs—one in every room!
  • A wrap-around deck with chaise lounges, a stainless-steel BBQ grill and an elevated, postcard view of lovely Lake Tahoe!
  • A master bathroom bigger than my cupcake kitchen, with a Jacuzzi tub and steam shower! (Pinch me!)
  • Two gas fireplaces – one in the master bedroom!
  • Wet bar/refrigerator in the master bedroom (uh-oh!), as well as another private deck that overlooks the lake!
  • Separate media room with a leather couch!
  • Laundry room!
  • Central heating and air conditioning!
  • Walk-in closet in master bedroom, with two white, fluffy bathrobes waiting on the hanger!
  • Wireless, high-speed Internet and DVD player!

May in Lake TahoeOne look at this place and I turned to the kind and gracious innkeeper, Penny Gray, whose job I want to steal, and said, “You are going to have to call the sheriff to remove me and my daughters from here, because we aren’t leaving!”

Too bad we were staying only one night. But it will be a night to remember. After a healthy dinner at “Freshies,” a small, organic restaurant that is BIG on flavor, and very popular with the locals, we watched “Life As we Know It” on DVD, and then retired to our separate bedrooms on separate floors. Me in my HUGE master bedroom aglow by the fireplace; my daughters spread out in their separate queen-sized beds somewhere in the house.

Pitch Black in Lake Tahoe

I woke up suddenly at midnight, sensing that something was wrong. Tried to turn on a light. Nothing. Slight panic. After all, it was a very big condo and I had no idea where the electrical box was. I looked through the blinds, and to my amazement, it was pitch- dark EVERYWHERE in Tahoe. A complete blackout all over the city! Weird. I grabbed my cell phone and used it as a flashlight to go find my kids. I needed the reassurance that they were safe and OK.

Long story short: I came to Tahoe hoping for some good bonding time with my daughters, and bonding we did. Thanks to the late-night blackout in the city, we ended up sleeping together in my king-sized bed, legs and arms and sleep patterns colliding throughout the night.

And I liked that.

A Day at a Lake Tahoe Spa

We fell asleep to a blackout and awakened to a whiteout! Overnight, it snowed – in May, mind you! The lush, green lawn where I had envisioned a touch football game with the Kennedys the day before was now covered in about three inches of powdery snow. So much for breakfast on the patio.

But one sight remained unchanged: That incredible postcard view of Lake Tahoe, still beautiful, still blue, still STILL and unfazed by the chaotic weather surrounding her.

I was in awe. Which segues perfectly to our next adventure, a place where my daughters and I exhaled the word, “AHHHHHH!”

If you’re up for a day of pampering, I highly recommend a trip to the Onsen Spa at the Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa. What I really loved about this particular spa is that it is conveniently located right next to the parking garage, so you don’t have to trudge through a noisy, smoky, bells-ringing, coins-being-gobbled-up casino to get to it, as is the case with so many other casino hotel spas.

We were all treated to full-body massages, which was a real treat for my daughters, who have had only one massage their whole lives. Their spoiled mother, who is no stranger to massage and whose cupcake-making muscles are deeply sore from lifting heavy pans, decided on something a little different: Ashiatsu, the massage technique where the therapist stands on your back and applies foot and heel pressure to reach deep into your muscles.

It was one time I didn’t mind being walked all over.

Lynn Armitage is a single mom and owner of a cupcake shop in Northern California. She is also a freelance writer and blogger, and an award-winning, syndicated columnist.